The Jesus Character Critically Examined
the Gnostic Creation of the Jesus Myth
by Roger Viklund
Copyright © Roger Viklund, Röbäck, Umeå, Sweden, 2002.
This paper was first presented orally at the the seminar "Jesus; In
Search Of His Footsteps" in Uppsala, Sweden, September 2-5 2002.
I shall briefly summarize why I consider it highly improbable that Jesus of the Gospels has existed. I shall also take a look into the world of Gnosticism and try to show the Gnostic impact upon the Jesus Myth.
If there is conclusive evidence, you can prove beyond any doubt that a certain person has actually existed. For instance, no one can seriously doubt the historicity of Winston Churchill. But if no such evidence can be found, and the facts instead point in the opposite direction, it is nevertheless impossible to prove that someone has not existed. There is always the possibility that the inventors of a story had an actual person in mind when they constructed that story. I shall not deal with such a possible human being, since I cannot see that there is any chance that we can get to know anything about him. It will only be guesswork. Instead I shall concentrate on the Biblical Jesus, whom I regard as a fictitious character. The best one can do is to collect all available evidence and “proofs” and see in what direction they tend to point.
Nothing of what I am about to say is proof of Jesus’ non-existence, and each argument can be reasonably questioned. But it is everything together that makes it a strong case.
The vast majority of experts in this field seem absolutely convinced that Jesus has walked the Palestinian soil. But apart from the fact that so many people have believed in Jesus for so many years, there really is not much to support his historicity. And I wonder how many would have entertained that opinion if we should have discovered the Gospels just recently.
LET US FIRST LOOK INTO THE NON-CHRISTIAN EVIDENCE
There are no proofs, except Christian writings, that Jesus has existed. I reject Pliny the Younger,[i] Suetonius[ii] and Tacitus[iii] as being to late, and only reflecting the opinion of Christians by that time. I consider the two passages in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews as Christian interpolations.
The Testimonium Flavianum[iv] is never attested by anyone[v] before Eusebius quotes it in the fourth century.[vi] No Christian writer, no Father of the Church ever referred to the Testimonium, not even once, although they were in constant struggle with the docetic Gnostics about whether Jesus was an earthly or a heavenly being. Origen must have read all of Josephus’ books since he explicitly says that Josephus did not believe in Jesus as the Christ.[vii] Since it would have substantially strengthened their arguments to refer to the Testimonium, and yet they did not, I find it implausible that the Testimonium was in the Antiquities until the time of Eusebius.
Moreover, the Testimonium is placed in a context in the Antiquities that makes it highly unlikely that Josephus wrote it. When he writes, immediately upon the Jesus passage, that ”also another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder” (18.65), he is obviously referring to the events described in the previous paragraph, the one before the Testimonium.[viii]
I also regard Ken Olson’s arguments convincing, when he claims that Eusebius actually wrote the Testimonium. He reaches that conclusion after having studied both the language and the content of the Testimonium, and then made comparisons with Evangelical Demonstration by Eusebius.[ix]
And if the first, long reference to Jesus is a forgery, then there is no good reason to accept the second mention of Jesus as authentic. The whole passage deals with the high priest Ananus, and the reason why he was deposed from his office. He executed “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others” (20:200).[x]
The mere fact that Josephus calls Jesus Christ implies that this is a Christian interpolation. Josephus would never have considered Jesus as Messiah. And he wrote for Hellenistic readers to whom a description like “who was called Christ” would be meaningless. This would only make sense if Josephus previously explained that Jesus was Christ. Then all of the Testimonium in his preceding book would have to be genuine, that is, including the description that Jesus “was the Christ”, a sentence that is almost universally agreed to be at later insertion.
The fact that Origen was aware of a similar phrase in Josephus’ works, but in a different context, only shows that Christians were forging Josephus even before the days of Origen.[xi]
So, it seems as if no contemporary historians, including Josephus, wrote about Jesus. Josephus describes three Messiah-like persons who were active in Palestine at the same time as Jesus is supposed to have made such a great stir. Why does not Josephus – or for that sake Philo and Justus of Tiberia[xii] – write anything about Bible-Jesus?
WE MOVE ON TO THE EARLY “CHRISTIANS”
The earliest Christian testimony originates from Paul, who probably wrote his letters in the 50’s. He never claims to have met Jesus, except in visions. But he writes that he has met Peter and some other people whom the Gospels (which were composed later) call the disciples of Jesus.
Still, Paul does not seem to be aware of any historic Jesus who lived in the recent past. He is totally uninterested in Jesus’ life on earth. Almost everything the Gospels later will tell about Jesus appears to be unknown to Paul.
Although Jesus, according to the Gospels, performed miracles, Paul rejects them.[xiii] When Paul tries to convince his readers that it really is possible to be raised from the dead (1Cor 15:12ff), he fails to tell that Jesus performed that very same deed with Lazarus (John 11:1ff). Paul is occupied primarily with two issues; Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Yet, he gives us almost no information about those events. Instead we are told that it was “the archons of this aeon” who crucified Jesus (1Cor 2:8).[xiv] He thereby reveals his Gnostic character, since he uses a Gnostic designation for the non-divine spirits that are the actual rulers of the earth.
Nor does Paul talk about any disciples. Instead he uses the word apostle. He claims to have received his mission directly from God in visions – just like Peter,[xv] and considers himself equal in merit with the other apostles.[xvi] And although he is accused for not being a genuine apostle,[xvii] he never discusses the fact that he was not really an actual disciple of Jesus.
Paul does not just ignore John the Baptist and Jesus’ baptism; he is also unaware that Christ had exhorted his disciples to baptize.[xviii]
Paul never mentions Judas and the betrayal. Though most translations of verse 11:23 in 1 Corinthians says that Jesus was betrayed, it is actually a paraphrase, since the Greek word paredideto only means “delivered”.[xix] The whole concept more resembles a ritual that was read during a sacred meal in a mystery cult than an actual meal.[xx]
Paul uses many phrases that are found in the Gospels. But only twice does he refer to expressions used by Jesus that are also found in the Gospels. And of those two, only one has an ethical character. Namely: “A wife must not separate from her husband”.[xxi] And since it was not permitted for Jewish women to divorce their husbands, that statement could not have originated from Jesus. It is indeed strange that Paul consistently gives teachings like: “Bless those who persecute you” (Rom 12:14), without revealing that it derived from Jesus.[xxii] If there were no Gospels and we only had Paul, we would not even know that Jesus was a teacher of ethics, and that he taught in parables.
There are only a few indirect references in all of Paul’s genuine letters[xxiii] that indicate that he could have regarded Jesus as someone who lived recently on earth. And all of those references could be explained otherwise.
When Paul says that Jesus was a descendant of David,[xxiv] he is only referring to a common Jewish belief. Paul tended to interpret things in accordance with the Scriptures.
When he reports that Jesus was buried and then raised on the third day,[xxv] it still was according to the Scriptures. And this only reflects a common belief that Sun-gods were resurrected on the third day.
The reference to “James, the Lord's brother”[xxvi] could as easily refer to a fellow-believer, as to a biological brother of Jesus.
And when Paul states that Jesus was “born of a woman”[xxvii] he actually seems to be saying that Jesus has descended from the heavenly regions, ruled by the archons. He has been symbolically born by Hagar in the physical world, in order to liberate those that are enslaved by the elemental things of the world.
According to Paul, Jesus had come to the earth, in a distant past,[xxviii] suffered, died and been resurrected, exactly like it was foretold in the Scriptures. Paul knew no Jesus from Nazareth. He even doubts whether the Jews actually had heard Jesus’ message,[xxix] a statement that discloses that Paul was not aware of the fact that Jesus had lived among the Jews.
It is also strange that the communities to which Paul wrote had managed to form and evolve into such a well-functioning organisation so shortly after Jesus’ death. And why do not the members of the communities ask Paul any questions about Jesus? Nothing in Paul’s letters seems to suggest that. Paul had been in Jerusalem at least twice and had spoken to Peter and others.[xxx]
Moreover, the early Christians held different opinions about a number of things. Inner fights flare up, the different groups threaten to split the young church into warring sects, but no one ever cares about the opinions of the disciples. If Jesus had lived recently, chosen twelve disciples and given them clear instructions how to spread the message (the gospel) and how to lead the community, they should not so soon after his death have begun to quarrel about all sorts of things, even those most essential to the new faith.[xxxi]
If Paul was an exception, and everybody else gave testimony of Jesus’ historicity, then you could explain away Paul’s silence as a lack of interest peculiar to him. But also the remaining Christian literature that was written in the first century shows a similar lack of interest in what Jesus is supposed to have said and done.[xxxii] Only in the Gospels, the Pastoral letters[xxxiii] and Ignatius’ letters do we get any information about the historical Jesus.
WHAT ABOUT THE FOUR GOSPELS THEN?
When we move from Paul and his contemporaries to the Gospels, it is like entering an entirely new world. Here we are confronted with an attempt to depict Jesus’ life. Although some will date the Gospel of Mark before the Jewish war, I consider Mark 13 to be a reference to the destruction of the temple,[xxxiv] which occurred in 70 CE. And it is also obvious that the story of the evil spirits whose name is Legion and whom Jesus casts into 2000 pigs that drown in the lake,[xxxv] refers to the 2000 men strong Roman tenth legion that was left to guard Jerusalem after the war.[xxxvi] It also had the pig as its emblem.[xxxvii]
So all of the Gospels were probably written after 70 CE. We have the first quotations from the Gospels in the writings of Justin Martyr in the middle of the second century. But Polycarp probably also knew some of them and he wrote no later than 135 CE, and probably even earlier.[xxxviii] The earliest Gospel fragment, p52, containing a few lines of the Gospel of John,[xxxix] is dated to around 125 and at the latest to 150 CE. Therefore, all of the Gospels were most likely written sometime between 70 and 135 CE. There are valid reasons for dating them after 70 CE, but no valid reasons for dating them shortly after 70 CE.
If today we would find undated letters by Goethe (1749-1832) describing the French revolution in 1789, it would be a valid conclusion to state that the letters were written after 1789, but an invalid conclusion to state that they were written shortly after 1789. The richness of details and the vividness of the description are the results of the author’s ability to treat his subject, and have not necessarily anything to do with the objective facts described.
The Gospels should, accordingly, have been written sometime between 70 and 135 CE. And I would prefer to date them to a time around the turn of the century, with Mark a little bit earlier. My reasons, among others, are that they are attested in history so much later than, for instance, Paul’s letters.[xl] Ignatius (c. 110 CE) never refers to the Gospels although he is familiar with a great deal of the Gospel story.[xli] It is also likely that Luke made use of Josephus’ Jewish War and Antiquities.[xlii] The latter was not published until 93/94 CE.
Although the Gospels pretend to portray Jesus’ life, it is obvious that they are not biographies. If we try to deconstruct them we can also begin to understand how they were composed. The authors mainly used what we today call the Old Testament in constructing their tales. Jesus’ life is designed to conform to the prophecies found in the Old Testament about the coming Messiah.[xliii]
The infant stories in Matthew and Luke are so inconsistent, contradictory and filled with untruth, that they have no historical value whatsoever.[xliv] Jesus preaches in Synagogues and argues with the Pharisees in Galilee, although neither Synagogues nor Pharisees were frequent in Galilee until after the Romans expelled the Jews from Judea after the Jewish war.[xlv]
Furthermore, there are very close similarities between the way Jesus lived his life according to the Gospels, and the mythic biographies of above all Heracles, Apollonius of Tyana, Dionysus, Asclepius, the Buddha, Krishna and Mithras.[xlvi]
Jesus also performed the same kind of miracles that in those days divine persons were thought to be able to perform; miracles that, furthermore, almost all of them are paralleled in older and contemporary literature.
Modern scholars are often involved in trying to peel off the Gospel layers to try to get to the core of the story. (But it could be that the Gospel story in fact is like an onion, without a core.) In doing so they reach different conclusions. But the majority agree with each other that at least the Passion story is basically true.
Many attempts have been made at extensive investigations to reconstruct Jesus’ last days in life. Since the story in certain details nicely fits in with our knowledge of how people led their lives in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, it is regarded as proof that Jesus lived his last days roughly as it is outlined in the Passion story.
But irrespective of whether the Gospels are founded upon historical facts or are free fantasies, they were written with the definite purpose to make people believe that what they recount also did happen. Therefore the authors had to make the story credible. Also novelists seek to describe the setting as realistically as possible.
But it is not by far as interesting to find the details that correspond with reality, as it is to find those that do not. And the Passion story is constructed out of many unlikely events. Like the “betrayal” of someone who was well known and whom “everyone” knew where he was;[xlvii] the trial at the Jewish Sabbath;[xlviii] the impossible scenario with Pilate;[xlix] the solar eclipse at the full moon[l] and the burial and the resurrection act which is literally taken from the ancient romance novel Chaereas and Callirhoe by Chariton.[li]
WHAT ABOUT THE ORIGINS OF THE SCRIPTURES?
As far as we know, all the New Testament scriptures were written in Greek. Nothing seems to indicate that any of them originated in Palestine, where Jesus is said to have lived and worked. This is surprising, since only people in Palestine could really have known what actually happened.
If the Gospels and all other biographic information about Jesus only arose around the turn of the century, two, perhaps even three generations after the time when Jesus is supposed to have died, you have to ask yourself; why so late? Could it be that it was not until then that sufficient time had elapsed, so that no one who was active around 30 CE could still be alive to refute the information? If furthermore the spread of the new faith took place in regions far from Palestine, you had double security. Who would then have known the true facts?
Matthew and Luke in all probability copied Mark. Consequently, they are not three sources, but only one. And the Gospel of Mark is definitely not an eyewitness account.[lii] Probably Matthew and Luke also copied another scripture, namely Q, although we cannot be certain, since this is nowhere attested. And since Q is not narrative and almost wholly consists of Jesus sayings, it is no source of an historical Jesus. There are even those who claim that the earliest layer of Q (Q1) did not contain the name Jesus. And apart from the name Solomon, Q1 is almost free from Jewish ideas. Jesus sounds more like a Cynic preacher than a Jewish rabbi. How could Q then provide evidence for a Jewish Jesus teaching in Palestine?
We do not have Q in our possession, but we do have the Gospel of Thomas, which displays a similar structure, that is, contains no frame story and consists exclusively of Jesus sayings. The main reason why the majority of scholars place the origin of Thomas in the second century and not in the first seems to be its Gnostic character. Since Thomas is a Gnostic scripture, they say it must have been written late, as the Gnostic movement arose late. And the main reason why they consider the Gnostic movement late is that the Gnostic scriptures were written so late. This is a circular argument, however.
Thomas often shows a more primitive Christology and a simpler form than both Q and Mark do. I am leaning more toward the opinion that Mark made use of Thomas than the other way round.[liii]
We could have a second source in the Gospel of John, provided that its author did not also make use of Mark. And there seems to be a connection between the two Gospels through the Secret Gospel of Mark.
WHAT ABOUT THE EARLY GNOSTICS THEN?
Paul obviously also is a Gnostic initiate. Even though the Fathers of the Church tried to convert Paul into an opponent of all Gnosticism by forging letters in his name,[liv] it is obvious that Paul was everything he is said to resist. Paul uses words and expressions that clearly reveal his Gnostic side.[lv] And the Gnostics themselves considered Paul to be one of their greatest teachers.[lvi]
We must realize that the Gnosticism of the first century probably was different from the one we meet in the second and third centuries. It is often stated that the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of John are not genuine Gnostic scriptures, since they tend to look upon the material world as something mainly positive. The same thing is said about Eugnostos the Blessed. Douglas M. Parrott, who translated it for the Nag Hammadi library, dates it to the first century before the Common Era, but also says that it “cannot be considered gnostic in any classic sense.”[lvii] But this is, as I see it, a misinterpretation. It is more probable that early Gnosticism was lacking the more pessimistic life view and more resembled neo-Platonism. To put Gnosticism of the first century on the same level as Gnosticism of the second and third could be like identifying Theosophy of the 19th century with New Age teachings of the late 20th century. It is also interesting to study how the Gnostics turned Eugnostos into Sophia of Jesus Christ by adding the Jesus character. According to Parrott this was probably done already in the latter part of the first century.[lviii] It is my guess that the four Gospels were constructed in a similar way.
LET US MOVE ON TO THE SECRET GOSPEL OF MARK
It has struck me as strange that so little effort has been spent upon studying the implications of the secret Gospel of Mark. It is now almost half a century since Morton Smith, in a monastery just outside of Jerusalem, found a letter by Clement of Alexandria. He discovered it in an old book in which it seemed to have been copied in the 18th century. And since we still have not got hold of the book and have to rely upon Morton Smith’s photographs of it, I suspect that some scholars feel a touch of uncertainty about it.
Most scholars, though, consider it to be genuine. However, some suspect that Smith could have forged the letter. But then he would have had to accomplish four sorts of forgeries. First of all he would have had to write the letter in an 18th century handwriting that would fool the experts. He also would have had to be such an expert on both Mark and Clement that the text would stand up against investigations accomplished by modern computers. But above all, in order to accomplish the fourth forgery, he would have needed a sixth sense, since the letter solves problems within the Gospels that have puzzled theologians for centuries.
Clement wrote the letter about the year 200, as a reply to one of his disciples who wonders whether there is a secret Gospel of Mark in which it is written “naked man with naked man”. Clement denies the story about the naked men, but confirms that the Gospel exists. He says that it, as well as our canonical Gospel was written by Mark in Alexandria. He also lets us know that the secret Gospel was an expansion of our Gospel of Mark. Clement then quotes a passage from his copy of Secret Mark where Jesus raises a man from the dead. According to Clement it had its place between Mark 10:34 and 35.[lix]
Clement also gives us a second example of what Secret Mark contained. Mark 10:46 is a passage that for a long time has puzzled Bible scholars. It says:
"Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city..."
Now, what is the point of mentioning that Jesus came to Jericho if immediately afterwards he leaves the town without having done anything? But according to Clement after the sentence “They came to Jericho” Secret Mark has:
"And the sister of the youth whom Jesus loved and his mother and Salome were there, and Jesus did not receive them."
Only with this additional information does Mark 10:46 make sense.[lx] That also implies that Clement was wrong. Secret Mark must have been written earlier and not later and the Gospel of Mark familiar to us must therefore be a copy of Secret Mark, stripped of many essential parts.[lxi]
If Secret Mark is older than Mark then we have a testimony that is older than our oldest Gospel heretofore. And thereby the longer passage becomes even more interesting, since it clearly shows that Secret Mark was a Gnostic Gospel. After Jesus has raised the young man from the dead he loves Jesus, and they go to the house of the youth who is said to be rich. And after six days the youth comes to Jesus, wearing only a linen cloth over his naked body and they stay up all night while Jesus teaches “him the mystery of the Kingdom of God”. This can hardly be said more explicitly. Jesus initiates him into the inner mysteries. This is a clear example that the Gnostics considered an initiation into the inner mysteries as the same thing as being raised from the dead. The life of the uninitiated is almost death. When you experience an enlightenment of Gnosis it seems like you have been dead up to now.[lxii]
It looks like the Gnostics were right when they claimed that they alone had the keys to the correct interpretation of the scriptures. They knew that Jesus’ life was not portrayed in the Gospels. Instead the original story was meant as symbolic, showing the different steps in the evolution of human consciousness.
Our Gospel of Mark is merely the remaining text, and only – as Clement puts it – ”suitable to whatever makes for progress toward knowledge”. Stripped of most of its symbolic elements, it was perceived by the uninitiated as a true story about Jesus from Nazareth. The actual story was kept for ”those who were being perfected”.
There is a very close similarity between the raising of the young man from the dead in Secret Mark and the raising of Lazarus in the Gospel of John (11:1ff).[lxiii] They are so similar that it evidently is the same story.[lxiv]
Secret Mark also yields perspective on an episode in John where Thomas the Twin tells the other disciples: ”Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (11:16) It is obvious that he is encouraging the other disciples to die so that they all can be resurrected, that is be initiated and experience Gnosis.
It seems like when the secret teaching was removed from Secret Mark, some remnants were left for our Gospel of Mark. With some detective work it might be possible to discover these fragments in Mark, since they serve no real purpose there.
Mark (14:43ff) tells us that when Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane, all the disciples fled. But a young man, dressed in only a linen cloth, stayed behind. As they caught him he ran away naked, leaving the cloth behind. This story serves no purpose in Mark, and the young man is never mentioned anywhere else. But the man is young and wears only a linen cloth over his naked body, just like the man Jesus raised in Secret Mark. The resurrected man in Secret Mark loves Jesus and so does obviously this young man, since he dares to stay with Jesus although the disciples flee. It could be that Secret Mark in this place contained a longer story and when it was cut down for Mark this fragment was kept.
There could also be a connection between Mark and Secret Mark in the story of the rich man who has fulfilled the Law, but walks away in sorrow when Jesus tells him to sell everything he owns and follow him (Mark 10:17-22). This man is rich and according to Matthew (19:20) also young, just like the youth in Secret Mark. And when Jesus looks at him he loves him.
There is also the disciple whom Jesus loved and who appears only in the Gospel of John. We never learn his name. He is there at the last supper (13:23); he follows Jesus to the High Priest (18:15ff, 20:2) and is the only disciple that is present at Jesus’ crucifixion. It is usually thought that John was the beloved disciple, since it is said that the beloved disciple wrote the Gospel named John.
Apart from the fact that Jesus is said to have loved his father in heaven and the disciples as a group, he is said to have loved only five people; Martha, her sister Mary and her brother Lazarus (John 11:5) the rich [young] man (Mark 10:21) and the beloved disciple. But in Secret Mark (10:46) there is also the ”sister of the youth whom Jesus loved”. That youth is probably the same youth whom Jesus just recently resurrected, and, as we have seen, he is named Lazarus in the Gospel of John.
Could all these men be one and the same? The young man whom Jesus brought back to life in Secret Mark would consequently be Lazarus from the Gospel of John. It would also be the same Lazarus who ran away naked from the guards in Gethsemane. Perhaps it was the same young man who went away in sorrow, because he was so rich. Lazarus is never mentioned again in the Gospel of John after the twelfth chapter, while the beloved disciple is mentioned for the first time in chapter thirteen. Could it be that Lazarus became a beloved disciple only after he was resurrected?
A GNOSTIC ORIGINAL GOSPEL!
Secret Mark thus had a story about Jesus raising a young man from the dead. It is obvious that this is a symbolic tale about initiation into ”the mystery of the Kingdom of God” and not a narrative about a real event. From the strange drafting in Mark 10:46 about Jesus coming to Jericho and then immediately leaving the town we can draw the conclusion that Secret Mark must have been written before Mark and been liberated from most of its symbolic stuff afterwards. What remained was a story about the man of God, Jesus Christ, intended for the broad mass of uneducated people.
The resurrection story in Secret Mark, stripped of its manifest Gnostic symbolism, found its way into the Gospel of John. Therefore we have a direct connection between John and Mark. They both seem to have used Secret Mark, or rather an original common to both which also the author of Secret Mark utilized. A Gnostic original Gospel.
John emphasizes other persons than the main characters in the Synoptics. And we also find some of the more important ones, like Salome, in Secret Mark. So it looks like John kept more of its esoteric character. John is also the most Gnostic of the four Gospels.
If we purely hypothetically tried to reconstruct Secret Mark using our knowledge of the four Gospels and the letter of Clement, we would probably get acquainted with a young man’s pilgrimage through life. His name is Lazarus and we can catch a glimpse of him in a few places in Mark and John.
We probably meet him for the first time when Jesus is baptized as one of John the Baptist’s disciples.[lxv] Together with Andrew he leaves John and follows Jesus to his place where they stay all day.[lxvi] Here Secret Mark might have had a symbolic rite of baptism.
We meet him again in Mark 10:17 as a young and rich man who has fulfilled the Law. Jesus looks at the man and loves him. He tells him to sell everything he owns and follow him. Then the man walks away in sorrow, because he is rich. The ultimate richness for the Gnostics was of course gnosis. The young man would not give up all his knowledge. It would be like dying and was too horrifying.
Shortly afterwards we meet this young man again in Secret Mark. He seems to have actually dared to give it all up, since he has died and Jesus resurrects him from the dead. This time it is the young and rich man, who is called Lazarus, that looks at Jesus and loves him. Dressed in his funeral clothing he is initiated by Jesus and they love each other. This evidently symbolizes the reunion between man’s lower self, eidolon, and man’s higher self, Daemon, where Lazarus is eidolon and Jesus is Daemon. From here on Lazarus is the disciple that Jesus loved.
Later we are told that the beloved disciple is lying next to Jesus at the last supper and Jesus tells him who is about to betray him (John 19:18ff).
After that we are told about the young man in Gethsemane who obviously loves Jesus so much that he remains with him, whereas the disciples flee (Mark 14:51-52). He thereby shows courage. He is stripped of his only linen garment and this probably means that he leaves the earthly life behind.
The next appearance he seems to be making under the description ”another disciple”[lxvii], when he together with Peter goes to the High priest, who he is said to be acquainted with (John18:15ff). That ought to imply that he is a person of high station, which is exactly what Luke (18:18) says was the case with the young man Jesus told to sell everything he owned. Peter denies Jesus, an act of cowardice. But we are not told what the other disciple does.
Then we move to the cross where the only disciple who has the courage to stay by Jesus is the disciple whom Jesus loved. Next to him is Jesus’ mother, her sister Mary and Mary Magdalene (John19:25-26). Jesus asks him to take care of his mother. Why does he do that? The explanation is found in Secret Mark 10:46 when Jesus in Jericho did not receive ”the sister of the youth whom Jesus loved and his mother and Salome”. It looks like the sister of the youth whom Jesus just recently resurrected and Jesus’ mother spent time together. According to John, Lazarus had two sisters, Martha and Mary. Mary is probably Mary Magdalene who is standing next to Jesus’ mother by the cross. Jesus’ family and the family of the young man at the cross, probably Lazarus, were accordingly friends. That is why Jesus weeps when he finds out that Lazarus is dead and sees how sad Lazarus’ sister Mary is.[lxviii]
The beloved disciple also runs together with Peter to Jesus’ grave (John 20:1ff). We realize that he must be young since he runs faster than Peter and reaches the grave before him. He discovers the linen bandage on the ground. Once again the linen robe has fallen off. [lxix]
Finally the disciples meet the resurrected Jesus but do not realize it. The only one who sees that it is Jesus is the disciple that Jesus loved (John 21:7). He of course recognizes his own twin soul.
This is an attempt to recreate a story as it might have read in Secret Mark. There is a story about a young man who follows Jesus through the entire narrative and Jesus initiates him at the different landmarks in the Gospel story. Jesus loves this disciple more than all the others and he should probably be seen as another aspect of Jesus. The story is clearly symbolic, however, and does not depict the life of an actual human being.
LET US SUMMARIZE
I claim that we have no historic testimony of Jesus Christ. He is first mentioned in the second century and then only as the founder of the Christian movement. These late testimonies only reflect the Christian opinion by that time.
Paul knows no historic Jesus who lived in the recent past. If Paul considered Jesus to have lived on earth, it must have been in a distant past. To Paul, Jesus is a heavenly being who has revealed himself to Paul in visions. The Gnostic movement obviously existed long before Paul was influenced by it. He is also deeply fascinated by the Gnostic ideas he is said to be fighting against. The picture of Paul as an opponent of all Gnosticism is a distorted picture that was implanted by the Fathers of the Church in their controversies with the Gnostics.
Moving from Paul to the Gospels is like entering a new world. Nevertheless, the Gospels are neither biographies, nor history books. They are composed out of a number of ideas. We have not yet found all of the sources of the Gospels’ stories about Jesus. But that is not surprising, since we know that only a minute portion of the vast ancient literature has survived. And if a person discovers that the greater part of a story was actually taken from different fairy-tale books, he would be a fool if he draws the conclusion that the remaining parts are true. They could either be taken from now lost sources, or they could be free inventions. To find the origin of every detail is quite simply impossible.
The authors of the Gospels made use of literary sources and common beliefs of their time and constructed one more Saviour-god. It seems as if the authors were Gnostics. They applied their technique of constructing a Saviour by portraying symbols as real persons.[lxx] The original Gospel of Mark was a symbolic tale of man’s spiritual evolution, where Jesus and his companions moulded the different steps in the awakening of consciousness. When stripped of most of its symbolic material the Gospels, as we know them today, are what remains. Perhaps the principal intention was to produce a moralist novel that would influence people and afford them some hope for a better future.
The Gnostic authors, who probably were Jews, shaped a pagan man of God in a Jewish garb. Perhaps they intended to bring the pagan mysteries to the Jews. Instead, they brought the Jewish religion to the pagans.
Jesus’ life was designed to make the readers believe that Messiah had already returned in the shape of Jesus. This was achieved by portraying Jesus’ mission in accordance with the Jewish scriptures. Furthermore, Jesus’ life was described in a similar way as that of other Saviour figures.
The miracles were imitations of what pagan gods in the vicinity had accomplished. The faith healings, for instance, were borrowed from Asclepius. Jesus’ teaching was put together from Jewish, Gnostic, Stoic and other conceptions. Even if there was an actual Jesus at the bottom of the Gospel story, hardly anything of what he did and taught was left to posterity. We shall never know what he meant since we do not know what he said. And we cannot know what he said when we do not even know if he existed. Critical scholars believe Jesus did not utter the main part of what he is supposed to have said according to the Gospels. There is nothing to prevent that also the remaining part is fiction.
There are few, if any credible, detailed and concordant statements in the Gospels about where Jesus came from, his childhood, mission, work and the substance of his teaching. We are left with no eyewitnesses, only four Gospels that do not seem to record actual events. Instead they rely upon each other. And their sources, the ones we know of, are either mere collections of sayings that give almost no historic frame, or Secret Mark, which is clearly a symbolic Gnostic Gospel.
Copyright © Roger Viklund, Röbäck, Umeå, Sweden, 2002.
[i] Pliny wrote a letter to the Roman Emperor Trajan circa 112 CE:
“They affirmed, however, the whole of their guilt, or their error, was, that they were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft, or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food – but food of an ordinary and innocent kind. Even this practice, however, they had abandoned after the publication of my edict, by which, according to your orders, I had forbidden political associations. I judged it so much the more necessary to extract the real truth, with the assistance of torture, from two female slaves, who were styled deaconesses: but I could discover nothing more than depraved and excessive superstition.” (Pliny, Christo quasi deo, i Epistulae 10.96:7).
This, of course, is no proof that Jesus was a living person in Palestine in the beginning of the first century CE. It is also strange that Pliny calls him Christ, which is not a proper name, only a title.
[ii] However, Chrestus was a common name, especially among slaves. The Roman historian of culture, Suetonius, wrote about the same time as Pliny, that Emperor Claudius (41-54 CE) expelled the Jews from Rome.
”As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome”. (Suetonius, Vita Claudii 25:4)
As evidence the paragraph is obviously worthless, since this is supposed to have happened circa 50 and not 30 CE, at the instigation of Chrestus and not Christus and that the Jews were expelled and not the Christians.
[iii] When the Roman historian Tacitus wrote the history of Rome between 14 and 68 CE, he also mentioned Christ:
”But not all the relief that could come from man, not all the bounties that the prince could bestow, nor all the atonements which could be presented to the gods, availed to relieve Nero from the infamy of being believed to have ordered the conflagration, the fire of Rome. Hence to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind.” (Tacitus, Annales 15:44).
This was written circa 115 CE. By that time no person was alive who was old enough to have witnessed the event and to give testimony of it. Therefore, Tacitus’ description must be based on official records if it should be considered as evidence of an historical Jesus. But since Tacitus uses the title Christ and not the name Jesus, he can hardly have picked up the information from an official record. It is impossible that an official Roman record would say: “This evening Christ was executed.”
Also, an inscription found in 1961, informs us that Pilate was the prefect and not the procurator of Judea, as Tacitus incorrectly says. If Tacitus had consulted official records he would have known what title Pilate bore. Besides, no one refers to this passage of Tacitus until after 1000 CE and the oldest manuscript is from 1100 CE.
Now and then also Thallus, Phlegon and Mara Bar-Serapion are said to be independent witnesses of Jesus. But Thallus’ and Phlegon’s so-called testimonies are only preserved by Julius Africanus, writing in the third century (The Chronography, fragment 18:1; Extant Writings 18; Ante‑Nicene Fathers, vol. 16). He finds it strange that they both say that a solar eclipse, which cannot occur at the Jewish Passover, caused the darkness at Jesus’ crucifixion. But we do not know whether they wrote about the darkness when Jesus was crucified or just a solar eclipse at approximately the same time. Besides, we do not know when Thallus and Phlegon wrote. It could be well into the second century and in that case far too late. Mara Bar-Serapion wrote a letter to his son sometimes after 73 CE, and possibly as late as the third century. He wonders what advantage the Jews did gain from “murdering their wise King?” (Syriac Manuscript number 14658 in the British Museum) We do not even know if he meant Jesus.
[iv] The Testimonium Flavianum by Josephus.
”Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct to this day.” (Josephus Flavius, Antiquities of the Jews 18:63-64)
[v] Peter Kirby, The Testimonium Flavianum. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/testimonium.html
“No form of the Testimonium Flavianum is cited in the extant works of Justin Martyr, Theophilus Antiochenus, Melito of Sardis, Minucius Felix, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Julius Africanus, Pseudo-Justin, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Origen, Methodius, or Lactantius. According to Michael Hardwick in Josephus as an Historical Source in Patristic Literature through Eusebius, each of these authors shows familiarity with the works of Josephus.”
But Roger Pearce claims that there is no evidence that Justin, Clement and Cyprian knew Josephus. http://www.tertullian.org/rpearse/eusebius
[vi] Eusebius, Evangelical Demonstration 3:5, Ecclesiastical History 1:11.
[vii] Origen, Against Celsus 1.47.
“Now this writer, although not believing in Jesus as the Christ, in seeking after the cause of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, whereas he ought to have said that the conspiracy against Jesus was the cause of these calamities befalling the people, since they put to death Christ, who was a prophet, says nevertheless – being, although against his will, not far from the truth – that these disasters happened to the Jews as a punishment for the death of James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus called Christ, – the Jews having put him to death, although he was a man most distinguished for his justice. Paul, a genuine disciple of Jesus, says that he regarded this James as a brother of the Lord, not so much on account of their relationship by blood, or of their being brought up together, as because of his virtue and doctrine. If, then, he says that it was on account of James that the desolation of Jerusalem was made to overtake the Jews, how should it not be more in accordance with reason to say that it happened on account (of the death) of Jesus Christ, of whose divinity so many Churches are witnesses, composed of those who have been convened from a flood of sins, and who have joined themselves to the Creator, and who refer all their actions to His good pleasure.”
[viii] It is often argued that divergent material had to be inserted in the text, since the footnote was not invented when Josephus wrote. But the main objection is not that the passage is misplaced, the main objection is that Josephus begins the next paragraph with ”also another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder” (18.65).
[ix] Ken Olson, Eusebian Fabrication of the Testimonium, (2001).
[x] This is what Josephus writes about James, the brother of Jesus who is called Christ.
”But this younger Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews, as we have already observed; when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned”. (Josephus Flavius, The Antiquities of the Jews 20:200-201).
[xi] This is what Origen writes about James the brother of Jesus who is called Christ.
“And to so great a reputation among the people for righteousness did this James rise, that Flavius Josephus, who wrote the ‘Antiquities of the Jews’ in twenty books, when wishing to exhibit the cause why the people suffered so great misfortunes that even the temple was razed to the ground, said, that these things happened to them in accordance with the wrath of God in consequence of the things which they had dared to do against James the brother of Jesus who is called Christ. And the wonderful thing is, that, though he did not accept Jesus as Christ, he yet gave testimony that the righteousness of James was so great; and he says that the people thought that they had suffered these things because of James.” (Origen, Commentary on Matthew, 10:17; similar in .Against Celsus, 1:47, 2:13).
This passage is not present in any known copy of Josephus’ works. If it had been genuine, it would of course have been preserved by the Christians during their long period in power.
See also Earl Doherty, THE JESUS PUZZLE, Was There No Historical Jesus?, Supplementary Articles - No. 10: Josephus Unbound: Reopening the Josephus Question,
And it should also be said that the testimonies in the Talmud, for instance that they hanged Yeshu on the Eve of the Passover (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a), are far too late (2nd or 3rd century) to be independent testimonies.
[xii] Philo (circa 25 BCE- 45 CE) wrote a lot about religious issues and mentions the Essenes (Quod omnis probus liber sit 12-13, § 75-91) and Pilate (Leg Gai, 302). He probably also visited Palestine, but he mentions neither Jesus nor the Christian movement.
Justus of Tiberia wrote History of the Jewish War circa 80 CE. It is now lost but in the 9th century it was read by Photius, patriarch of Constantinople. He was surprised to find that Justus did not write anything about Jesus (Photius, Bibliotheca codex 33).
[xiii] According to the Gospels, Jesus performed signs (miracles) to show the greatness of God. Why, then, would not Paul give the Jews signs, but only preach Christ crucified?
”Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified”. (1Cor 1:22-23)
[xiv] Paul does say that the Jews killed the Lord Jesus (1The 2:14f). But this is probably a later insertion, since he afterwards claims that the “wrath of God has come upon them at last.” (1The 2:16). This looks like a vaticinium ex eventu, since it seems to refer to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE and the expulsion of the Jews. Instead Paul wonders whether the reason for God’s rejection of the Jews is that they killed their prophets in the past. And he only mentions the prophet Elijah and not Jesus. It looks like he was not aware that Jesus was killed by the Jews:
“I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don't you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah – how he appealed to God against Israel: ‘Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me’” (Rom 11:1-3)
Paul never says anything about the fact that it was the Romans who sentenced Jesus to death, or that the crucifixion took place in Jerusalem, or even on earth.
[xv] Paul never mentions Judas Iscariot. He does mention, however, Cephas (Peter), James (Jesus’ brother according to the Gospels) and John. But Paul never reveals that they should have met Jesus as a human being. Instead, 1Cor 9:1 and 15:5ff show that Paul held the opinion that he, Peter, James and John all had met Jesus in some sort of vision.
[xvi] Paul claims that he is equal in merit with the other apostles.
“For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles.” (Gal 2:8)
[xvii] See for instance 2Cor 12:11-13.
”You have made me act like a fool – boasting like this. You ought to be writing commendations for me, for I am not at all inferior to these "super apostles," even though I am nothing at all. When I was with you, I certainly gave you every proof that I am truly an apostle, sent to you by God himself. For I patiently did many signs and wonders and miracles among you. The only thing I didn't do, which I do in the other churches, was to become a burden to you. Please forgive me for this wrong!”
[xviii] Paul says: “Christ did not send me to baptize (1Cor 1:17). By saying so, he seems to be unaware of what Jesus said in Matthew 28:19:
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.
On the other hand, the whole passage in Matthew is probably an interpolation.
[xix] The supposed reference to the Last Supper in 1 Corinthians in Young's Literal Translation.
”For I – I received from the Lord that which also I did deliver to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was delivered up, took bread, and having given thanks, he brake, and said, ‘Take ye, eat ye, this is my body, that for you is being broken; this do ye – to the remembrance of me.’ In like manner also the cup after the supping, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; this do ye, as often as ye may drink [it] – to the remembrance of me”. (1Cor 11:23-25).
[xx] Compare previous footnote (1Cor 11:23-25) with this Mithraic inscription:
“He who will not eat of my body and drink of my blood, so that he will be made one with me and I with him, the same shall not know salvation.” (The Jesus Mysteries, p. 1).
[xxi] The saying of Jesus at “The Lord’s supper” (1Cor 11:23-26 and Matth 14:22-25), “This is my body which is for you” is said to be impossible to translate from Greek back into Aramaic, the language Jesus should have spoken.
The only ethic teachings, which Paul says, derive from Jesus (the Lord) and which also is found in the Gospels (Matth 5:32).
”To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband.” (1Cor 7:10).
Since it was not permitted for Jewish women to divorce their husbands, that statement could not have originated from Jesus.
There are also similarities between 1Cor 9:14 and Luke 10:7, the exhortation that they should pay their teacher.
[xxii] Depending on how you interpret Paul, he refers to sayings made by Jesus that is also found in the Gospels only two or maybe three times. Instead he invokes God.
“Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other” (1The 4:9).
Paul seems to be totally ignorant of what Jesus according to the Gospels taught. In Romans 8:26 he says:
“We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”
He thereby reveals his ignorance of what Jesus taught:
“This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name...” (Matth 6:9).
[xxiii] Modern scholars consider only Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians and Philemon to be genuine. Colossians is composed in a similar style as the other seven, but is probably written a little later by a disciple of Paul.
[xxiv] Romans 1:1-4.
“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God – the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Paul is accordingly saying, “to his human nature [Jesus] was a descendant of David”. But what does Paul really say?
1) It is the Gospel of God.
2) The Gospel was promised beforehand through revelation (the prophets in the Holy Scriptures).
3) Paul has received the information about the gospel from the Scriptures, that is the Old Testament.
4) The information has been there all the time and simply waited to be discovered by Paul.
5) The scriptures contained the prediction about the Son of God, that is Jesus.
The Greek expression “kata sarka” does literary mean “according to the flesh” This is followed by “kata pneuma”, “according to the spirit”. Paul says that Jesus was a descendant of David according to the flesh and according to the spirit he was declared with power to be the Son of God. Paul seems actually to be referring to Psalm 2:7-9.
“I will proclaim the decree of the Lord: He said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron scepter”.
In Paul’s opinion this psalm predicted Jesus’ mission. Jesus was elected Son of God by God himself who also gave birth to him (in the flesh). Jesus was empowered to rule a mighty, worldwide, pagan empire. This is no reference to an historic Jesus. Besides, it was a common Jewish belief that Messiah would be a descendant of David, otherwise he was not Messiah.
See Earl Doherty, THE JESUS PUZZLE, Was There No Historical Jesus?, Supplementary Articles - No. 8: Christ As "Man": Does Paul Speak of Jesus as an Historical Person?
[xxv] 1 Corinthians 15:4-9.
”For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”
I consider this passage to be a forgery. Jesus appeared to both Cephas and the twelve. Since it is generally accepted that Cephas (Aramaic for rock) and Peter (Greek for rock) is the same person, it means that Paul presupposes thirteen disciples. It should be noted, however, that both Clement and Origen of Alexandria consider Cephas and Peter to be two separate persons.
Moreover, at this point Judas had committed suicide, so there were only eleven disciples left. Paul also uses words and expressions which he never uses anywhere else. He uses the word “appeared to” (ώφθη) four times, “the Twelve”, “sins” (in the plural) and “according to the Scriptures”.
Paul says that most of those to whom Jesus appeared “are still living”. This was evident when Paul wrote, only about twenty years after Jesus’ death. But it could not have been as obvious to an impostor, writing much later. It is also strange that no Gospel recounts the appearance to the more than five hundred brothers.
It also does not sound like Paul when he states: “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle”. Earlier he told his community members: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1Cor 11:1)
And even if the passage were genuine, Paul writes that Jesus was raised on the third day. And this was also according to the Scriptures. But we do not know what Scriptures he meant. Maybe he had Hosea 6:2 in mind, “He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day”. In those days it was a general belief that divine persons resurrected on the third day. So this reference only refers to a common Hellenistic belief.
[xxvi] Galatians 1:18-19.
”Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles – only James, the Lord's brother.”
According to the Gospels, which were composed later than Paul’s letters, Jesus had both brothers and sisters. His brothers were named James, Joses, Judas and Simon (Mark 6:3). The Greek word adelfos (adelfoV) does mean biological brother, but also fellow-believer, neighbour, stepbrother or relative. According to Paul and Acts, James was a leader of the Jerusalem community. And according to Eusebius, Hegesippus and the Gospel of Thomas (12), he was the highest leader.
As I see it, Paul did not mean that James was a biological brother of Jesus, rather a fellow-believer. When Paul writes to the Corinthians, he calls them “my brothers” (1Cor 1:11). Further he says that he has been informed,
“...that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’”
Those who followed Christ could easily be called Christ’s brothers, and those who followed Paul, Paul’s brothers, and so on. Therefore does “James, the Lord’s brother” probably mean that James was a member of one wing where they called themselves, the Lord’s brothers. We have two further examples.
“Don't we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord's brothers and Cephas”? (1Cor 9:5)
“Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.” (Phlp 1:14)
At the end of the first century the opinion was still that James was a brother of Jude, but not a brother of Jesus. Why should they otherwise have written “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James”? (Jude 1:1) If the author of the letter of Jude had considered James to be a biological brother of Jesus, then he also should have considered Jude to be a biological brother of Jesus, since he claimed that Jude and James were brothers. Then, why did not he just write, “Jude, a servant and a brother of Jesus”?
[xxvii] Galatians 4:1-5 in the New International Version:
”What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.”
The same verse in Young’s literal translation, which says that Jesus was not born of a woman, but came of a woman:
”And I say, so long time as the heir is a babe, he differeth nothing from a servant – being lord of all, but is under tutors and stewards till the time appointed of the father, so also we, when we were babes, under the elements of the world were in servitude, and when the fulness of time did come, God sent forth His Son, come of a woman, come under law, that those under law he may redeem, that the adoption of sons we may receive”.
Also other Saviour gods were born of women. Why does not Paul say that Jesus was born of Mary? Instead he seems again to allude to the Scripture, since he says that Jesus was born (came) of a woman under the Law. He could actually be referring to Isaiah 7:14.
”A young woman is with child, and she will bear a son and will call him Immanuel...”
It is of course possible that Paul simply means that Jesus was born of a woman. But he seems to be unaware of that woman’s name. In my opinion there are two possibilities. Either Paul considered Jesus as a heavenly being, and nothing else. Or he considered Paul as someone who had lived on the earth (and thereby had been born of a woman), but in a distant past, and now had revealed himself to Paul in visions as a heavenly being.
See Earl Doherty, THE JESUS PUZZLE, Was There No Historical Jesus?, Supplementary Articles - No. 8: Christ As "Man": Does Paul Speak of Jesus as an Historical Person?
The most likely explanation, though, is that the whole passage should be interpreted in a Gnostic way. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul is primarily dealing with the conflict between whether you should follow the Jewish Law, or just put your faith in the Christian system of belief.
Paul is moulding this conflict in metaphorical language and parables. He says that we are enslaved by the spiritual powers of this world, or cosmos (4:3). He thereby makes a clear allusion to the Gnostic archons.
Paul explains that the woman he is referring to is an allegorical woman (4:24). He compares the physic non-enlightened (the non-Christians), as those being born of Abraham’s slave-wife, Hagar. And she represents Mount Sinai where people first became enslaved to the Law (4:24-25). The enlightened Christians he compares with the sons of Abraham’s freeborn wife, Sarah. She represents the heavenly Jerusalem (4:26).
“… which things are allegorized, for these are the two covenants: one, indeed, from mount Sinai, to servitude bringing forth, which is Hagar; for this Hagar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and doth correspond to the Jerusalem that now [is], and is in servitude with her children, and the Jerusalem above is the free-woman, which is mother of us all”. (Gal 4:24-26, YLT)
In Paul’s mind God’s son (Christ, Jesus) is born under the Law and born of a woman. Since the Law and the woman are connected with each other in the text, Paul says that Jesus has been born under the law by a woman. Logically, that woman is Hagar, and not Mary. Jesus has descended from the heavenly regions, ruled by the archons, and been symbolically born by Hagar in the physical world, in order to liberate those that are enslaved by the elemental things of the world.
[xxviii] See for instance:
” Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past”. (Rom 16:25)
”Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness – the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colo 1:24-27)
[xxix] “But I ask: Did they [the Jews] not hear?” Then he remembers: ”Of course they did: ’Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.’” (Rom 10:18) If Paul did not even know that Jesus had lived among the Jews in Palestine, then that is a crucial evidence that no Jesus Christ was active there in the beginning of the first century CE.
[xxx] Gal 1:18 and 2:1. According to Acts, Paul visited Jerusalem on five occasions (9:26, 12:25, 15:1f, 18:22, 21:15f).
[xxxi] Paul obviously fears that the community will split into factions.
“I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’” (1Cor 1:10-12).
Right from the start, “the Christians” held different opinions. They even disagreed about whether Jesus rose in the flesh or only in the spirit. The Gnostics, and accordingly also Paul, claim that Christ was a heavenly being who did neither come, nor rise in the flesh.
“I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.“ (1Cor 15:50)
The author of 1 and 2 John refers to those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.
“Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully.” (2 John 1:7-8) See also 1John 4:1‑3.
Ignatius speaks of those who do not preach a Jesus who was born of Mary and died under Pontius Pilate. Ignatius to the Trallians (Roberts-Donaldson English translation).
”Stop your ears, therefore, when any one speaks to you at variance with Jesus Christ, who was descended from David, and was also of Mary; who was truly born, and did eat and drink. He was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate; He was truly crucified, and [truly] died, in the sight of beings in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth. He was also truly raised from the dead, His Father quickening Him, even as after the same manner His Father will so raise up us who believe in Him by Christ Jesus, apart from whom we do not possess the true life.” (Trall 9)
[xxxii] I am referring to Revelation, Ephesians, Hebrews, James, Jude, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Peter, Didache, 1, 2 and 3 John, Clement’s letter to the Corinthians and the epistle of Barnabas.
[xxxiii] 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus are probably forgeries from the beginning of the second century. They seem to have been written, at least partially, to refute the Gnostics by portraying Paul as an opponent to the Gnostics. They, as well as Acts, are first attested by Irenaeus of Lyon (c. 180 CE).
[xxxiv] Mark 13 does not only refer to the destruction of the Jewish temple, it also describes how the Romans dismantled it, stone by stone.
”As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ’Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!’ ’Do you see all these great buildings?’ replied Jesus. ’Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.’” (Mark 13:1-2)
[xxxv] This is only an ill-concealed allusion to what the Jews wanted to do with the Romans.
”Then Jesus asked him, ’What is your name?’ ’My name is Legion,’ he replied, ’for we are many.’ And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, ’Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.’ He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.” (Mark 5:9-13)
[xxxvi] Josephus Flavius, Antiquities of the Jews, 12.1.3
[xxxvii] William Harwood: Mythologies Last Gods: Yahweh and Jesus.
[xxxviii] We have the first definite quotations from the Gospels in the scriptures of Justin Martyr. He seems to be familiar with the Synoptics, but not with John. Polycarp seems to know Matthew and Luke, but not Mark and John. He expresses himself in a similar way as Matthew and Luke, though he never quotes them. Neither Justin nor Polycarp refers to the names of the Gospels. The names (all four) are first attested by Irenaeus circa 180 CE. Eusebius says that Papias (c. 140 CE) mentioned Mark and Matthew (Ecclesiastical History 3, 39:15-16), but it is obvious that Papias is not referring to the Gospels known to us.
[xxxix] John 18:31-33, 37-38.
[xl] Some of Paul’s letters are known to the authors of Ephesians and of the letter to the Corinthians, which is attributed to Clement of Rome. Both letters were probably written late in the first century. The Gospels are not attested until Polycarp uses them (no later than 135 CE). The Gospels and Paul’s letters are accordingly separated by almost half a century. Since the Gospels ought to have made a greater impact upon ordinary people than Paul’s letters, they should also have spread faster and not slower than Paul’s letters. Therefore, the Gospels were probably written much later than Paul’s letters.
[xli] Ignatius was bishop of Antioch. It is said that he was brought to Rome, where he was killed because of his Christian faith. During the transport from Antioch to Rome he is said to have written seven letters; five to communities in Asia Minor, one to the community of Rome and one to Polycarp, bishop at Smyrna. But there is also another tradition that claims that Ignatius died in Antioch. And I consider that information more credible. In that case Ignatius did not write the letters at all.
In these letters, the Catholic Church is mentioned for the first time (Smyr 8:2). It could be that the letters were written much later, intended as Roman Catholic propaganda. It is difficult to imagine how a person who was executed only because of his Christian faith, would be allowed to write and spread propagandistic letters while being transported as a prisoner. We know of at least eight other letters that were forged in Ignatius’ name. If Ignatius did not write the letters, they could have been written by one Proteus Peregrinus, who according to Lucian from Samosata (c. 150 CE) wrote books that were accepted as Christian writings. (Robert M. Price, Deconstructing Jesus, p. 163; ref. to Lucian, The Passing of Peregrinus 11).
Ignatius (or the letters attributed to him) says that Jesus was conceived in the womb by Mary, was of the seed of David but also of the Holy Ghost. He also mentions Herod and the star; that Jesus was baptized by John and suffered under Pilate, was nailed to the cross and resurrected in his physical body.
Thus Ignatius knows a lot about the Gospel legend. But we do not know if he knew any Gospel. In the epistle to the Smyrnaeans (1:1) he says that Jesus was “baptized by John, that all righteousness might be fulfilled by him”. This could mean that Ignatius was familiar with the Gospel of Matthew, since only in Matth 3:15 is it written that the baptism was done “to fulfill all righteousness.” On the other hand, even if Ignatius knew Matthew he did not consider it worth to refer to the Gospel.
“Since I have heard certain men say, ‘Unless I find it in the ancients, I believe it not in the Gospel.’ And when I said unto them that ‘It is written,’ they replied, ‘That it is set forth aforetime.’ But my archives are Jesus Christ; his cross and his death, his resurrection, and the faith which is through him, are inviolable archives, through which I desire to be justified by means of your prayers.” (Phil 8:2).
It should be noted that when Ignatius writes “Gospel” he does not mean a written document, but instead a “joyful message”.
[xlii] Essentially every person, every place and every event that is mentioned in Luke/Acts, that also is possible to check against other sources, is found in Josephus’ Jewish War and Antiquities of the Jews. It looks as if Luke consulted only one historical source.
In Acts Luke mentions three rebellious leaders, Theudas (Acts 5:36), Judas the Galilean (Acts 5:37) and the Egyptian (Acts 21:38). Josephus states that there were numerous such men, but only mentions these three (JA 20:97, JW 2:117-8, JA 18:1-8, JW 2:261-3, JA 20:171). And why do they both write just “the Egyptian”, without giving his name?
Luke is also saying that Jesus was born during “the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria” (Luke 2:2), an event that Josephus is the only historian to pay attention to (JW 2:117-8, JA 18:1-8).
Both Luke and Josephus consider the death of Agrippa I as God’s vengeance upon Agrippa because he had allowed the people to honour him as a god. Luke writes about Agrippa’s royal robe, while Josephus writes about his fabulous robe. And Luke says that Agrippa was eaten by worms, while Josephus says that he died of pain from his intestines (Acts 12:21-23, Ant. 19:343-52).
Richard Carrier, ”Luke and Josephus” (2000),
Steve Mason, Josephus and the New Testament, pp. 185-229.
[xliii] The authors of the Gospels utilized passages in the Scriptures which they considered as prophecies about the coming Messiah. These references to Messiah (Christ), in what we now call the Old Testament, was never intended as prophecies, but treated specific events at the time when they were written. But later generations interpreted them as prophecies. When Christ (the anointed) was considered as a proper name and not a title, those passages in the Septuagint which mentioned Christ were perceived as passages about the coming Messiah.
If we summarize the different Jewish conceptions, and what the Gospel authors saw as promises in the Old Testament, and from which they borrowed, it will be as follows. Jesus comes from Nazareth (Isa 11:1) in Galilee (Isa 9:1-2), is a descendant of David and is born in Bethlehem (Mica 5:2, 2Sam 5:2) by a virgin (Isa 7:14). As a little child his parents run away with him to Egypt (Hos 11:1) and a despot kills innocent children (Jer 31:15). John the Baptist (according to Jewish belief, in the shape of Elijah) prepares for Jesus’ arrival (Isa 40:3, Mal 3:1) and recognises him as the Messiah.
According to Jewish traditions the gifts of miracles should return. Jesus cures the sick, the blind and the deaf (Isa 53:4, 61:1-2). He walks on the water (Job 9:8), he speaks in riddles (Psal 78:2) and is not understood (Isa 6:9). Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey (Gen 49:10-11, Zech 9:9, Psal 118:26-27). He is betrayed (Psal 41:10, Psal 55:13-14), and Judas (Gen 37:26-28) receives his thirty pieces of silver (Exod 21:32, Zech. 11:12f).
Jesus is put on trial (Dan 6:4, Psal 27:12, 35:11). Like the suffering servant in Isaiah 53, Jesus dies an infamous death (Isa 50:6). Then the disciples are scattered (Zech 13:7) and the sun darkens (Amos 8:9). Jesus is given vinegar (Psal. 69:22), he cries “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34, Psal 22) and dies with the words: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”(Luke 23:46, Psal 31:6) They cast lots about his cloth (Psal 22:19), pierces him (Zech 12:10) but do not crush his bones (Psal 34:20f, Exod 12:46).
[xliv] Matthew and Luke give totally different birth narratives. You cannot even find out when Jesus was born. Matthew claims that Herod was alive when Jesus was approximately two years old (Matth 2:16). Since we know for sure that Herod died 4 BCE, Jesus could not have been born any later than 6 BCE. But Luke claims that Jesus was born when Quirinius was the Legate of Syria (Luke 2:2), during the first taxation, which occurred 6 CE. That leaves us with a time interval of 11 years (there is no year 0). Moreover, the whole arrangement in Luke is impossible. We know that Galilee was autonomous 6 CE and was not liable to taxations by the Romans. But also Matthew’s story about Herod’s killing of the innocent children is a fairy tale. It is nowhere attested in history, and Herod could not have committed such a crime imperceptibly. Therefore both Luke’s and Matthew’s stories are false.
[xlv] Robert M. Price, Deconstructing Jesus s. 66f, 106f.
[xlvi] To give one example, I have summarized the life of Heracles. I have of course excluded many details which have no correspondence in the Gospel stories. I am not necessarily saying that other cultures, or mythologies influenced Christianity. A more likely explanation is that they all utilized a common heritage. To me it seems unlikely, though, that “every” Saviour God should have led his life in approximately the same way as all the others. That suggests that the Gospels are fictitious documents.
The Greek God Heracles is mostly known by his Latin name Hercules. The legend says that he performed twelve great deeds. It is less known that there was a flourishing religion already in the sixth century BCE – a cult of Heracles as the saviour of the world. (The following is to a great deal founded upon Friedrich Pfister’s Herakles und Christus and Karlheinz Deschner’s Abermals krähte der Hahn).
Right from the beginning Heracles was seen as the reconciler of mankind and the Son of God. The tales about his life were eventually enlarged and even more idealised by, among others, the Stoics. At the beginning of the first century the faith had spread to large parts of the Mediterranean area, such as Greece, Syria and Rome.
There are points of close similarity between the life of Jesus and the life of Heracles. Heracles’ mother Alcmene is, like so many other mothers of gods, a virgin when she gives birth to Heracles. His father is the mighty god Zeus (Hesiod, [8th century BCE], Theogonia, 943 [Loeb]). Just like Jesus, Heracles has a mortal stepfather (Amphitryon). But like Joseph (Matth 2:4ff), Amphitryon does not have sexual intercourse with his wife until after the divine conception has taken place. Heracles’ mortal parents make a trip from their hometown Mycenae, to Thebes, where Zeus makes Alcmene pregnant and she gives birth to Heracles (Homer, The Iliad, 19:95-99 [Loeb]). It was very common that virgin sons were born during flights or travels. That was the case when Isis gave birth to Horus. While Jesus, according to the Gospels, was born in Bethlehem, he was still called Jesus of Nazareth. Also Heracles was known to come from his father’s hometown Mycenae, despite the fact that he was born in Thebes (Friedrich Pfister, Herakles und Christus, p. 47; refers to a Greek inscription, Carmina epigraphica, 22).
When Heracles is born, the goddess Hera, Zeus’ wife, is told that a king of her tribe is born. Knowing that Zeus is the father, and driven by jealousy and fear of losing her power to the new king, she tries to kill Heracles. Like Jesus’ parents fled with Jesus to Egypt in order to escape Herod’s persecution, and after Herod’s death returned to Palestine, Heracles’ mother hides Heracles to escape Hera’s persecution and afterwards brings him back. (Diodorus Siculus [c. 90-21 BCE] Bibliotheca Historica, 4, 9:4ff).
Before Heracles begins his public mission, he spends – just like Jesus – a long time by himself. During this period he is tempted, and like Jesus he overcomes the temptations. Hermes shows Heracles the spheres of the Kings and the tyrants from a high mountain. (Friedrich Pfister, Herakles und Christus, p. 48; refers to Marcus Tullius Cicero [106-43 BCE], De Officiis, 1:118; Xenophon [c. 430-355 BCE], Memorabilia, 2.1:21-33 [Loeb] and Dio Cassius [c. 150-235 CE], Romaika historika. Compare with Mark 1:12ff). Jesus also meets this fate, when the Devil shows him the glory of the kingdoms of the earth from a high mountain, and promises that he can rule them all (Matth 4:8).
Both Sons of God have received a mission from their heavenly father, and both fulfil their fathers’ will (Epictetus, [c. 50-120 CE], The Discourses, 2:16, 3:24; Luke 4:43, 22:42, Matth 6:10). They both receive the confirmation of the mission prophetically, Heracles from the Oracle and Jesus from the book of the prophet Isaiah (Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca Historica, 4.10:7 [Loeb]; Luke 4:16ff). They will both choose a path of suffering (Euripides, [c. 480-406 BCE], Herakles, 1244ff [Loeb]. According to Pfister, p. 50 also Plutarch, De Fortuna Alexandri, 2:11; Mark 8:31, Matth 16:21, Luke 9:22). Heracles is called The Saviour (Dion Chrysostomus [c. 45-120 CE], Orationes, 1:71 [Loeb]). Like Jesus, he walks on the water (Emperor Julian, [331 or 332-363 CE], Orationes, 7:219 D), but his great deed is to overcome death, and his death leads to eternal life (Seneca, [c. 4 BCE-65 CE], Hercules Furiens, 611ff, Hercules Oetaeus, 1944ff [Loeb]).
Deianira, the person who causes the death of Heracles, is like Judas Iscariot filled with despair and repentance and hangs herself (Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca, 2.4.7 [Loeb]; Seneca, Hercules Oetaeus, 1020-24 [Loeb]). Jesus is crucified at Golgotha, a small hill outside of Jerusalem. Heracles is burned to death on the mountain Oeta. When Heracles dies, both his mother (Seneca, Hercules Oetaeus, 1290f [Loeb]) and his favourite disciple Hylas is there (Apollonius Rhodius, [c. 200 BCE], Argonautica, 1:1207ff). According to John 19:25f the conditions were the same when Jesus died. Before Heracles dies he calls to his heavenly Father: “I beg you, take my spirit to the stars... Look, my father calls me and opens heaven. Father, I will come.” (Seneca, Hercules Oetaeus, 1703-26 [Loeb]). According to Luke 23:46 Jesus cries out: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Before they die, both Sons of Gods say: “It is finished.” (Seneca, Hercules Oetaeus, 1472 [Loeb]; John 19:30). When Heracles as well as Jesus dies, both an earthquake and a solar eclipse occur (Seneca, Hercules Oetaeus, 1131-7 [Loeb]). After his death Heracles resurrects and calls out: “Mother, do not mourn... after this I will go to heaven”, which he also does. The resurrected Jesus says to his mother: “Woman, why are you weeping? ... I ascend to my Father.” (Seneca, Hercules Oetaeus, 1965-75 [Loeb]; Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica, 2:160; John 20:15,17). Even the information that the favourite disciple cared for the Saviour’s mother is found in the legend of Heracles (Seneca, Hercules Oetaeus, 1832-39 [Loeb]; John 19:26-27).
Above all the author of the Gospel of John seems to have borrowed a lot from the cult of Heracles. The word “Logos” which is frequent in John, is a loan from the Stoics, and was also part of the religion of Heracles. Compare John 3:17 with what Cornutus wrote in the 1st century. “For Logos is not there to injure or punish, but to save.” (Carl Schneider, Geistesgeschichte des antiken Christentums, book 1, p. 142; refers to Cornutus, Lucius Annaeus [1st century CE]. Theologicae Graeciae compendium, 16:21 and 31:62)
[xlvii] It remains a mystery why Judas betrayed Jesus, and what it was that he betrayed. Everyone knew where Jesus was and what he preached. When Jesus is arrested he says:
“Why didn’t you arrest me in the Temple? I was there teaching every day. But these things are happening to fulfill what the Scriptures say about me.” (Mark 14:49)
[xlviii] There is information in the Mishna (the oldest part of the Talmud) how the Jewish judicial system worked in the second century. We cannot be certain that it worked exactly the same in the first century. The information given in the Mishna ought to be relevant for the Jewish society, which was very bound by its traditions.
The trial against Jesus was held at night, although proceedings concerning capital crimes had to be held in the daytime (Sanhedrin 4:1). According to all four Gospels, the trial was held on a Friday. John (19:14) says it was at the preparation of the Passover. According to the Synoptics it was the first day of the Passover (Mark 15:42). The Mishna stipulates a total prohibition against court proceedings on the preparation day of the Sabbath, that is a Friday (Sanhedrin 4:1). A trial during the Passover was of course impossible.
Jesus was sentenced to death in the morning immediately after the trial, although a death sentence could not be pronounced until next day (Sanhedrin 4:1). Jesus was accused and found guilty of blasphemy, by claiming to be the Messiah (Mark 14:61-64). But you could only be accused of blasphemy if you uttered the name of God (Sanhedrin 7:5).
The trial at the Jewish Sabbath (Passover) could be compared to a session of the Supreme Court on the night of Christmas Eve, and then again in the morning of Christmas day.
[xlix] Pilate is portrayed as if he at all costs wanted to set Jesus free. He tries to appease the Jewish people by having them chose between Jesus Christ and Jesus Barabbas. He has not even got the courage to set Jesus free. This is the same Pilate that Philo says was unreasonable and ruthlessly harsh (Embassy to Gaius 38:300-3). Josephus, who carefully records every benefit the Jews enjoyed, never mentions that “it was the custom at the Feast to release a prisoner whom the people requested.” (Mark 15:6)
The name Barabbas is Aramaic for “son of father”, an impossible name since every man is a son of his father. But according to all four Gospels, Jesus is said to be the son of his Father in heaven. Thus, Jesus Barabbas (Matth 27:17) and Jesus Christ become synonymous expressions. The story seems to be a Gnostic pun.
[l] The Passover always occurs at full moon. But a solar eclipse cannot occur at full moon. The moon can darken the sun only when the moon is between waning and new appearance.
[li] Robert M. Price has in Deconstructing Jesus (p. 213ff) pointed out the similarities between the ancient romance novels and the crucifixion and resurrection acts in the Gospels. These novels were written in the first centuries of the Common Era. The closest similarities are found in Chaereas and Callirhoe, The Alexander Romance; Ephesian Tale; Babylonian Story; Leucippe and Clitophon; The story of Apollonius, King of Tyre and Ethiopian Story.
“Three major plot devices recur like clockwork in the ancient novels, which were usually about the adventures of star-crossed lovers, somewhat like modern soap operas. First, the heroine, a princess, collapses into a coma and is taken for dead. Prematurely buried, she awakens later in the darkness of the tomb. Ironically, she is discovered in the nick of time by grave robbers who have broken into the opulent mausoleum, looking for rich funerary tokens (as in the King Tut’s treasure-lined tomb). The crooks save her life but also kidnap her, since they can’t afford to leave a witness behind. When her fiancé or husband comes to the tomb to mourn, he is stunned to find the tomb empty and first guesses that his beloved has been taken up to heaven because the gods envied her beauty. In one tale, the man sees the shroud left behind, just as in John 20:6‑7.
The second stock plot device is that the hero, finally realizing what has happened, goes in search of the heroine and eventually runs afoul of a governor or king who wants her and, to get him out of the way, has the hero crucified. Of course, the hero always manages to get a last-minute pardon, even if he is affixed to the cross, or he survives crucifixion by some stroke of luck. Sometimes the heroine, too, appears to have been killed but winds up alive after all.
Third, we eventually have a joyous reunion of the two lovers, each of whom has despaired of ever seeing the other again. They at first cannot believe they are not seeing a ghost come to comfort them. Finally, disbelieving for joy, they are convinced that their loved one has survived in the flesh. Anyone who professes not to see major similarities between these novels, long ignored by scholars because of their supposed frivolity, and the gospels either has never read the gospels or does not want to admit the disturbing parallels.” (Deconstructing Jesus, p. 213f)
[lii] Mark is unaware of Jewish customs (Mark 7:1-23, 10:12), and unfamiliar with Palestinian geography (Mark 5:1ff, 7:31).
[liii] The parable about the tenants in the vineyard, which is found in both Mark 12:1-12 and Thomas 65, constitutes the strongest evidence that Mark made use of Thomas. For a thorough investigation see Stevan Davies: Mark’s Use of the Gospel of Thomas: http://www.misericordia.edu/users/davies/thomas/tomark1.htm http://www.misericordia.edu/users/davies/thomas/tomark2.htm
[liv] Irenaeus of Lyon begins his Against the Heresies by quoting 1Tim 1:4 and Tit 3:9. These letters constitutes Irenaeus’ main argument for asserting that Paul was an opponent of all Gnosticism. But the letters are in fact later forgeries in Paul’s name. Therefore the Gnostics also rejected these letters and claimed that Paul did not write them.
[lv] Paul uses words such as pneuma, gnosis, doxa, sophia, teleioi and mysterion, all of which had special meanings to the Gnostics. But the Bible translations often conceal the Gnostic connection since the translators tend to interpret Paul in accordance with the Christian doctrines and not the Gnostic doctrines. To give one example I have chosen 1 Corinthians 2:6-8.
NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION
”We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”
A MORE LITERAL GNOSTIC TRANSLATION
Sophia we speak among the initiated, but not a Sophia of this aeon, or of the archons of this aeon who are becoming useless. No, we speak God’s Sophia in a mystery, a Sophia that has been concealed and that God foreordained before the aeons to our glory, which no one of the archons of this aeons did know, for if they had known, they would not have put the Lord of the glory on a stake.”
The different translations give totally different pictures. Paul seems to be saying that mankind is enslaved ”by demonic beings connected with astral phenomena.” And the divine being, Jesus, who incarnated to rescue mankind was put on a stake – that is fettered to the physical world – by the non-divine spirits, the so called archons, that are the actual rulers of the earth.
(Freke and Gandy, The Jesus Mysteries p. 164-166)
[lvi] The Gnostic Valentinians considered Paul as an initiated Gnostic teacher (Irenaeus; Against the Heresies, 3.2.1-3.3.1), who had founded their communities, and was the foremost apostle. They said that they were following his example when they offered “secret teaching of wisdom and Gnosis ‘to the initiates’”. (Irenaeus; Against the Heresies, 3.3.1-2, 3.15.2, quoted in The Gnostic Paul by Elaine Pagels, p. 1; se also p 2-10 and 157-164).
[lvii] The Nag Hammadi Library, p. 221.
”Ineffable joy and unutterable jubilation characterize existence in the supercelestial region; and from there come patterns or types for subsequent creations... Eugnostos shows the influence of the transcendent realm upon this world. With one brief exception (85,8), which is probably an editorial addition, the influence is benign. Eugnostos, then, cannot be considered gnostic in any classic sense.”
[lviii] The Nag Hammadi Library, p. 221
”The probable place of origin for Eugnostos, then, is Egypt. A very early date is suggested by the fact that Stoics, Epicureans and astrologers are called ’all the philosophers.’ That characterization would have been appropriate in the first century B.C.E., but not later... Because of the dating of Eugnostos, it would not be surprising if Soph. Jes. Chr. had been composed soon after the advent of Christianity in Egypt – the latter half of the first century C.E. That possibility is supported by the tractate’s relatively nonpolemical tone.”
”And they come into Bethany. And a certain woman whose brother had died was there. And, coming, she prostrated herself before Jesus and says to him, ’Son of David, have mercy on me.’ But the disciples rebuked her. And Jesus, being angered, went off with her into the garden where the tomb was, and straightway a great cry was heard from the tomb. And going near, Jesus rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb. And straightaway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand and raised him, seizing his hand. But the youth, looking upon him, loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him. And going out of the tomb, they came into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after six days Jesus told him what to do, and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the Kingdom of God. And thence, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan.”
[lx] The entire passage as it is thought to have read in Secret Mark.
"Then they came to Jericho. And the sister of the youth whom Jesus loved and his mother and Salome were there, and Jesus did not receive them. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city...
[lxi] If we suggest that Secret Mark was a later expansion of Mark, we still have not solved the problem with Mark 10:46. With that explanation we are left with a theory which says that the author of the earliest known Gospel wrote that Jesus came to Jericho and then immediately left the town without having done anything. And then a later redactor turned Mark into Secret Mark and corrected the anomaly by adding a sentence, which would make the information about Jesus visiting Jericho understandable.
It is far more reasonable to think that Secret Mark was written first and had a story about Jesus meeting the women in Jericho. That information was removed for Mark, perhaps because it revealed the connection between Jesus’ family and the family of Lazarus (including Martha and Mary). Therefore Mark was left with a story about Jesus entering Jericho and then immediately leaving the town, a story that serves no purpose.
[lxii] When Lazarus was resurrected (in both Secret Mark and John) he went from the dark into the light. Jesus says in the Gospel of John:
“You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light... I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” (John 12:35-36, 46)
This is Gnostic esoteric symbolism. Plato describes the same awakening of consciousness in the parable about the cave (The Republic, Book 7). When you leave the darkness of the cave and enter the world of light, it is an overwhelming experience.
[lxiii] In the following I have borrowed a lot of ideas from Miles Fowler’s article: Identification of the Bethany Youth in the Secret Gospel of Mark with other Figures Found in Mark and John. http://www.depts.drew.edu/jhc/fowler.html
[lxiv] In both Gospels the raising takes place after Jesus has walked from Galilee to Judea and then to the other side of Jordan. In both cases the disciples are afraid before the raising what will happen if Jesus is arrested (Mark 10:32, John11:8). Both times the act takes place in Bethany and in John the two sisters of the deceased meet Jesus on the road, while in Secret Mark it is only one sister that meets Jesus on the road. In both stories the sisters lead Jesus to the grave, but in Secret Mark Jesus raises the dead man by touching him, while in John he calls him out. It is only in these two stories that the ones to be resurrected are lying in graves. In Secret Mark Jesus follows the newly resurrected man to his house. Jesus also follows Lazarus to his house, although not directly. The youth is obviously rich, since he owns a house. Lazarus also owns a house and should therefore also be considered rich.
[lxv] We are not told his name, but the tradition has identified him, as the author of the Gospel, who is said to be the one Jesus loved.
[lxvi] The Gospel of John 1:35-40.
”The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, ’Look, the Lamb of God!’ When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, ’What do you want?’ They said, ’Rabbi’ (which means Teacher), ’where are you staying?’ ’Come,’ he replied, ’and you will see.’ So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour.” Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus.”
[lxvii] The tradition has identified him as the one whom Jesus loved. And John 20:2 identifies “the other disciple” as “the one whom Jesus loved”.
[lxviii] The Gospel of John 11:32-36.
”When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, ’Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. ’Where have you laid him?’ he asked. ’Come and see, Lord,’ they replied. Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, ’See how he loved him!’”
[lxix] The youth in Secret Mark is wearing a linen cloth, and so is also the youth in Gethsemane. The Greek word that is used for the linen cloth is in both cases ”sindona”. Sindona is also used in Mark 15:46 for the linen in which Jesus is wrapped after his death. The youth in Gethsemane could accordingly be wearing some sort of funeral dress.
[lxx] In Wisdom of Solomon (2:12-20), the wisdom is portrayed as a righteous man.
"Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law, and accuses us of sins against our training. He professes to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord. He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; the very sight of him is a burden to us, because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange. We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous happy, and boasts that God is his father. Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life; for if the righteous man is God's son, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries. Let us test him with insult and torture, that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance. Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected."
This scripture was most likely written in the first century BCE and is considered to be Jewish, but not Gnostic. But it shows elements which are clearly Gnostic, although Jewish Gnostic, not Christian Gnostic.
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